Source: BBO

Roger Lee
Roger Lee

     BBO Star Rogerclee on Doubles Part I

On Sunday, July 21, we held a free teaching session on BBO hosted by US junior champion and Blue Ribbon Pairs winner  Roger Lee. This time Roger focused on Bidding Over Preempts. In case you missed the lesson, here’s the transcript.

NOTE: This lesson is for intermediate-advanced level. In many cases, this is going to fly against what old-fashioned textbooks about bridge have to say. I don’t mind this, and I don’t mind if you do not adopt what I have to say. It’s more important to listen to the thought process and decide what style of bridge you would like to play. The most important thing about bidding is to keep an open mind. Bridge has changed a lot in the last 30 years. For me (as you will see), my preferred style happens to be a very aggressive style where I like to bid on lots of hands.

Today I want to talk a little bit about bidding over preempts. I’ll be going over some basics that I think are important and what kind of things I look at when deciding if I should double (or bid).

Bidding over preempts can be very difficult. No amount of system or judgment is going to save you from the occasional silly result when they preempt.

When they preempt, we have four goals, roughly in order of importance

  1. Compete for the partial (in our best strain)
  2. Bid a game or slam (in our best strain)
  3. Penalize them
  4. Sacrifice against their game (applies most when they preempt 4M)

If you prefer to play a style with a lot of penalty doubles when the opponents preempt, you can do so somewhat effectively, but I would advise against it, since it stresses goal 3 while ignoring the others.

Let me start with a hand I played offline recently that we did not do particularly well on. North was Michael Seamon, west was John Diamond, and east was Geoff Hampson on this deal — three of the best players in the USA:

Board 1

Would you double with the south hand?

The major suit holdings are attractive, but at the end of the day we have a balanced 10 count. I think pass is quite clear, since not having a singleton club is a huge negative — if partner also does not have a singleton club, and does not have the values to act, we very likely should be defending.

This is one of the biggest things to realize when bidding over preempts:

  • When we both have length, it is better to be a little conservative since we have losers in their suit
  • When one of us has shortness, it pays to bid if it’s reasonable.

Move one of my clubs to diamonds and now doubling is quite clear. This may surprise some of you, but the onus on bidding is the one with shortness. When you are short with strong major suit holdings, it pays to stretch a little.

Notice I did not even discuss the possibility of bidding 4Heart Suit. While it is normal to show a 5 card suit rather than double, when they preempt, it’s a good idea to make the most flexible action. Doubling allows the possibility of defending 4club suitX or playing in diamonds, hearts, or spades — all of which we would be okay with if we had 4=5=3=1 pattern. I will talk a bit more about this later.

West now made a great pressure bid that I don’t think most people would find… 5club suit!

Now look at it from north’s side.

  • Partner has failed to act and the opponents have bid a game. It’s true that we have two aces, but it’s not 100% that they are cashing, and it’s also unclear if we were making anything anyway.
  • Double also risks partner pulling to 5Heart Suit, something we definitely do not want to hear.
  • Bidding 5Spade Suit or 5Diamond Suit aren’t serious options with such bad suits.
  • All in all, pass is a reasonable option, which is what happened.

The table result is we defended 5club suit-3 while we would probably make 6Spade Suit had we been in it. Bridge can be a tough game.

Two things to take away from this hand were

  1. When both you and your partner are conservative over a preempt, you pay the price. This is why it’s good to aggressively compete after they preempt, particularly with shortness.
  2. Spades plays significantly better than hearts on this hand. This is why we double rather than bid a suit if it is at all reasonable to do so.

When should we double their opening preempt?
In direct seat, a very rough, general rule is that if you feel you have a very normal double (where you aren’t stretching) at the 1 level, you should double the preempt.

Board 2

The west hand is what I would call a pretty minimum but normal takeout double of a 1Heart Suit opener, so I would also double 2Heart Suit here but consider it an absolute minimum.

However, I would pass a 3Heart Suit or 4Heart Suit opener with the west hand, our hand is just not good enough to enter the bidding at that level. I would need about an extra queen to double 3Heart Suit, and another to double 4Heart Suit.

Notice on the actual hand that doubling is a “disaster” which likely leads to 4Spade Suit-2. However, 2Heart Suit was making and east would definitely pass the hand out if it went around to him. It’s not so bad to get overboard when they were going to make their contract and nobody is doubling.

One of my tenets of bidding over preempts (or in any situation) is that if you don’t want to defend the current contract, try to bid.

Board 3

Should west double 3Spade Suit?
My opinion is definitely yes (though it’s very minimum), even though there are considerable risks involved. It’s true that you won’t like it if partner bids 3N or if the opponents double, but we have short spades and support for all the unbid suits with a reasonable hand.

Too often people concentrate on the incredible possible downsides of bidding and ignore the “middle” hands.

Here your partner has a hand that he would never consider bidding with in the balancing chair, and 4Heart Suit makes.
North will save in 4Spade SuitX-1, while if you pass, you will meekly defend 3Spade Suit making.

However, let’s change the hand very slightly…

Board 4

It looks like the same hand, but one important thing has changed – north and east are passed hands.

Now in my opinion it is normal to pass. Even though on this hand it works well to double, now east has basically the best hand you could ask for. The upside is much smaller for bidding, you know your side has about 18-21 points (if your side had less then they probably would be bidding more).

If you changed it further to make only east a passed hand, now this is the worst time to bid. Not only do you know that your side is limited, but their side is unlimited. Doubling would be asking for trouble with extremely minimal upside.

Balancing position hands.

Board 5

It’s clear to double with the east hand. Despite only having 9HCP, we have a distinct preference to not defend 2Heart Suit (undoubled). Whenever this is true, consider doubling.
We have support for all the unbid suits, and if the hand isn’t too nasty, partner is marked with some values (if north has a monster and heart shortness, too bad).

On this layout, 3club suit will go down 1 while 2Heart Suit should make exactly 2 on careful defense. However, doubling gives north the opportunity to possibly go wrong and compete to 3Heart Suit.

Board 6

Now the south and east hands are the same as before, but west has a penalty pass of 2Heart Suit. You might be concerned about defending a doubled partial with only 9 points, but when you have aces/kings, you have about as much defense as partner expects.

Don’t be concerned, I would be delighted (and unsurprised) if the auction resulted in a passout.

Deciding when to pass a takeout double for penalty requires a lot of judgment. In my opinion, most people are a bit too conservative and don’t do it enough. However, I will not touch on it too much, since it’s a complicated issue and a bit out of the scope of this talk.

Given the aggressive style of doubling that I am advocating, a natural question is:

How should your partner advance your takeout doubles?
My philosophy is to try to go plus once we double them and give partner a bit of rope.

Board 7

A lot of easts would force to game opposite a takeout double, thinking they had 9 more points than they promised, and partner forced to the 3 level.
That’s not a correct way of thinking about this auction though.
When your partner doubles, they are playing you to have something already.
I think it’s clear to bid only 3Spade Suit with the east hand, occasionally missing game in exchange for just going plus more often. On this layout, even 3Spade Suit is down on normal defense, and partner has full values with 4 spades and a singleton heart.

However, the hand is quite close to bidding game. Any significant improvement and I would just bid 4Spade Suit and take my chances.

Board 8

In my opinion the east hand is right on the border of inviting or bidding only 2Spade Suit at this vulnerability.
I would defer to point count and invite, but there are two big negatives with this hand

  1. We are aceless, increasing the chance that the opponents can score a defensive ruff.
  2. This is the kind of hand where we probably need four trumps in order for the hand to play well.

Some people may have noticed that I have not been using a common tool to bid over weak 2 preempts called Lebensohl.
I did not want to get into conventions too much, but in my opinion that is a worthwhile one to add to your arsenal if you do not play it.
There are many different writeups of Lebensohl on the internet. If you are interested in adopting it with your partner, just make sure you are playing the same version.

Now I want to talk a little bit about flexibility.

Flexibility

Board 9

West has an interesting problem on this hand.

I think most people would overcall 2Heart Suit with the west hand. Though I have no real problem with a 2Heart Suit overcall with the west hand, I prefer double.

When they preempt and you are 4-5 in the majors, I always seriously consider doubling if I feel it’s right.

Here we should examine three factors

  1. How good is our primary suit?
  2. What is our holding in their suit?
  3. What is my holding in the other minor?

Here, our primary suit (hearts) is not particularly strong.
Our holding in their suit is “clean” — no wasted cards. Ax is unsuitable for bidding NT, but with a holding like AQ I would think about it.
Also, we do not have a small doubleton in clubs. When we have Qx and partner insists on clubs, he will have five of them a great deal of the time (3334 and 3244 would be the main exceptions).
Sometimes he has six clubs and we do well to get us to a superior club contract rather than hearts.

The big gain from doubling comes when partner is able to bid your other major.

On a hand like this, if you overcall 2Heart Suit

You will have a lot of trouble even making 2Heart Suit. It looks down to me on normal defense.

However…

4Spade Suit will make in comfort.

Make the heart holding more robust (KQJxx) and I would give in and overcall. Now the likelihood with a holding like KQJxx that an alternative strain plays better than hearts is smaller.

Here is a problem hand.

Board 10

You might be surprised to learn that I would also double with this hand, despite holding a singleton club!

The problem is that bidding 3Heart Suit typically shows a decent suit and is very committal in terms of playing in hearts.
Bidding 3N has to be wrong with such great playing strength in the majors and only one diamond stopper.
Double works well when partner can bid either major, something that I would guess happens much more than 50% of the time.
Another problem with bidding 3Heart Suit is that our hand is extremely good opposite four hearts, so if he bids them we can comfortably force to game, while if we overcall 3Heart Suit he may not find a bid.
If partner bids 4club suit, we have a close decision whether to pass and live with our bidding or to pull to 4Heart Suit and hope to get lucky.
I would bid 4Heart Suit — I prefer to be an optimist!

Questions and Answers

    1. Q: 1st board, the 4club suit opening – might some take doubling the 4club suit opener as a penalty double?
      A: I addressed this point a bit earlier.
      You have a lot of goals when they preempt, only one of which is to penalize them.
      When you decide to play penalty doubles of 4 level or higher openers (which is a common agreement among non-experts, though as far as I know all top experts play it would be takeout), you give up a lot of ability to bid constructively.
      For example, one of the most important things to decide when they open 4Heart Suit is whether you should bid 4Spade Suit — either to make, as a save, or as a two-way shot.
      When you play penalty doubles, you are no longer able to do so effectively.
    1. Q: On the 2nd board can you please elaborate why you chose to x on that 10 po hand.
      A: Sure. This hand?

      Here is the way I look at this:

      1. I have a small doubleton heart (no waste).
      2. I have four spades and decent support for all the other unbid suits.
      3. I am roughly indifferent between bidding and defending 2Heart Suit.
      4. I have a pretty weak hand, but not terrible.

      I have found over the course of my bridge career that when I feel like it might be right to bid, it pays to bid.

    1. Q: Would you do it vul too?
      A: Yes but I would feel bad about it, haha.
      It would be very close.
      Doubling has lots of intangible ways to gain.
      For example, let’s say the auction were to proceed this way

      Now maybe they are stealing, maybe they are bidding to make, maybe a little bit of both.
      All I know is that I would definitely have preferred to double at the 2 level, than risk our partnership now having no idea what to do.

    1. Q: On board 7; if the east hand were 4324 instead of 4234, would it be significant improvement to bid game
      A: If I moved a diamond to a heart?

      It would be a little bit closer. It’s true that you should be cautious with a doubleton, and a holding like Axx is better than Ax.
      However, this concern is smaller when our side has 7-8 trumps.
      If I had 5 spades, and consequently, an expectation of a better trump fit, then I would upgrade for that reason.
      But here it is not enough of a reason.
      To elaborate, Axx is better than Ax because it is now more probable that your partner has a singleton.
      And a side doubleton is much better than a side xxx.
      Anyway, it would make the decision very close.

    1. Q: Got several questions about what you plan to do on the hands where you doubled without clubs, if partner bids clubs.
      A: I would usually pass and live with it, but it would depend on the hand.
      Bridge is just about percentages, anytime they preempt and I think my playing strength is amazing for the majors I strongly consider doubling.
      Also, as I mentioned, when partner insists on clubs, he has no major, so he is very likely to have 5-6 clubs.
    1. Q: On last board, would you still double with 13 pts (instead of 18 that you have)
      A: Sure, let me change it a little.

      I would at least think about it.
      3Heart Suit seems gross to me with such a terrible suit…
      I would still double but feel bad about it.
      I just don’t think my hand will play well in a 5-3 heart fit, so I don’t think I am giving up that much.
      Move my Spade SuitQ to the Heart SuitQ and now I would relent and just bid 3Heart Suit. Make the hand a little weaker and I would just pass.
      For example with AJxx Kxxxx Axx x I would just pass.
      Very close decision.
      It’s possible with this hand I should also pass.
      I like passing the more I think about it.

  1. Q: Several people asked how can partner know when to bid game if a takeout x can be as light as 10 po
    A: No matter how you bid over a preempt, there are going to be some hands you will do poorly on.
    If you aggressively make takeout doubles, you will compete correctly more often, but you will also get to too many games.
    If you conservatively make takeout doubles, you will compete less often, but when you do actually double you will be better placed.
    It’s all a trade-off.
    For me personally, I am ok getting to “too many” games and trying to make them in the play.
    I find this makes me a more dangerous and difficult opponent overall, something that all aspiring players should go for.
    If you are uncomfortable being this aggressive when they preempt, to me, that is okay.
    The more important thing is to understand the rationale, and then decide for yourself how you want to play.

OK, that sounds like enough for today. Thanks everyone!